“The unexamined life is not worth living.” Reportedly first uttered by Socrates during his trial, this call to self-reflection and self-analysis has formed the starting point for philosophical thinking for the last couple of millennia. We now live in a technological age, so it is not surprising that technology looks set to make it easier than ever to monitor, record and dissect everyday life.
From Google’s wearable computer, Google Glass, to Jawbone UP, the bracelet that continually tracks data relating to your physical (and even mental) state reporting its findings to a smartphone, the distance between the individual and their gadget (already reduced by the advent of mobile technology) is being collapsed once more. After all, it’s one thing finding the time and resources to examine your life as a full time philosopher, and quite another as an “always on” member of the workforce.
Advocates believe that by collecting and analysing data about how we live and using it to flag problems and suggest positive changes, wearable technology will allow us to better understand our lives and possibly improve our health and happiness too. They refer to this state of being as the “quantified self”, playing on the significant data acquisition involved.
In fact, a recent study commissioned by Rackspace revealed that 71 per cent of Brits who had tried these devices believe that they have “enhanced their lives.” It’s almost like a high-tech, automated version of the extensive diary writing of previous centuries. It’s not surprising that “the quantified self” resonates with the title of a biography of the compulsive journal-keeper and seventeenth century “life logger”: “Samuel Pepys – “The Unequalled Self.”
If people are to truly improve their lives by using wearable technology, they will need to be able to bring the data generated by separate devices together to create meaningful insights. Database software will elevate disparate or unstructured data into something approaching a “quantified self,” rather than just quantifying isolated and potentially meaningless data, such as what you ate for dinner last night. As we have seen in so many disparate cases, it is not merely the data that counts, but how it is used to generate meaning, value and insight. Put simply, it is the translation of data into information.
Wearing Data In The Workplace
Wearable technology and the data it collects is useful in more than simply a personal capacity; it has potential applications in almost any area of life or business. We have already seen the rise of smartphones and tablets lead to the personalisation of corporate IT and it is not a stretch to imagine wearable technology making the same inroads into businesses.
Imagine, for example, how it might help companies to operate safety management systems in the workplace, or enable retailers to take full advantage of the potential of augmented reality to sell the newest products by, for example, allowing potential customers to try on, customise and interact with products using digital eye wear.
There has already been discussion of the role that wearable technology could play in healthcare, and in the future we could see businesses using health-oriented wearable technology to reduce the health insurance premiums of its employees.
As is evident across all industries, simply collecting unstructured data is not enough in itself. Data means little if it is isolated or unstructured; it depends on organisation and analysis for its meaning. In other words, the rise of wearable technology will bring with it a requirement for database technology that can make sense of it and generate insight. Although the technology may be new and innovative, the information that it produces requires the same treatment as any other data produced by a business. It needs to be curated and analysed if it is to add value and generate insight.
Whatever the future of wearable technology brings, we can be sure of one thing. As long as there is a value in information, unstructured data will need to be captured, arranged and analysed. Similarly, a collection of individual body parts might make a human body, but it takes something extra to make a person.